10/15/08 2:00 PM ET
Rays switch to Kazmir for Game 5
Shields pushed back to potential Game 6 at Tropicana Field
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
As late as Tuesday, Shields was on track to be the starter. He started the series opener Friday at Tropicana Field, taking a tough loss despite holding the Red Sox to two runs over 7 1/3 innings. Rays manager Joe Maddon, however, had left himself some room for change, saying previously that Shields was "scheduled" to start Game 5.
"We're going to start Kazmir tomorrow," Maddon said on Wednesday. "It's something we thought about since prior to this thing beginning. Being in the position we're in, we like the idea of pitching him with the day off to follow.
"... We like the fact that [Kazmir is] pitching with an open day following, the ability to utilize the entire bullpen. We also like the idea of him pitching [at Fenway], and we like the idea of Shields being able to pitch at home, if necessary. So again, this did not just happen last night or the night before, whatever. We had talked about this prior to the series ever opening."
"I really can't point my finger at one thing," said Kazmir when asked to explain his success pitching at Fenway Park. "It's just something that I felt like the atmosphere, I really enjoy playing on a field like this, where it kind of just feels like the fans are right on top of you and you really have that adrenaline going. You have that atmosphere there, so [I've] just been fortunate enough to have some good outings here."
If a Game 6 is necessary, Shields would be the starter and the relievers would be rested no matter how much they might pitch in Game 5. Shields had three strong outings against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field this season, including a complete-game two-hitter over the summer and his tough-luck 2-0 loss in Game 1. In addition, Shields' record at home is dramatically better than on the road. On the road this season, Shields went 5-6 with a 4.82 ERA in 16 starts, which paled in comparison to his 17 starts at Tropicana Field, where he went 9-2 with a 2.59 ERA.
Maddon spoke highly of Kazmir's ability, despite two shaky outings in the postseason.
"Again, this young man is a tremendous talent," Maddon said. "And I'm going to say it again, at any moment he can just catch fire, the arm's fine. I've seen flashes recently. I'd like to see him get off quickly tomorrow, that would be great. And if he does and he gets the first couple of innings under his belt in good order, this guy can pitch deep into the game."
Kazmir is eager to erase the memory of his Game 2 start.
"I was very eager for this opportunity to get back out there and try to redeem myself from my last outing and everything. It's something that wasn't a surprise," Kazmir said. "Maddon and I, we've been talking about it ever since we got to Boston about maybe changing it up and everything like that, so it wasn't really a surprise to me."
Kazmir said the decision was no big deal between Shields and him.
"Shields and I were just talking about, you know, what's going on, what are we going to do, and then next thing you know, we get the word that it was going to be changed," Kazmir said. "So it wasn't really anything that was going on, it was just something that we were just waiting for the decision."
A popular media angle had focussed on the Rays not wanting Kazmir to pitch Game 6 because umpire Derryl Cousins will be working behind the plate. Kazmir openly criticized Cousins' strike zone after a June 11 contest against the Angels in Anaheim. Maddon and Kazmir both rejected the notion that having Cousins behind the plate affected the decision to have Kazmir start Game 5.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.